Last of the Old Time
Red House Records Inc.
by Eric Julian
There's two sides to everything - the front and the back. Sometimes in life, we're stuck looking only at the front - the public side, the false facade. But what about all that real stuff in behind? There are back yards, back country, back rooms, back roads and even back catchers. |
Chuck Brodsky's latest Last of the Old Time takes you 'round back for the good stuff.
On this - his third release for Red House Records - Brodsky further entrenches his reputation for penning fine folk songs with a lyrical focus on honesty and straight-talk. A Brodsky song is like a conversation with an old friend in front of the General Store. It's casual and honest but also sincere and funny. In that respect, Brodsky and his music are a dying breed. He'll call a spade a spade, with no apologies, just a catchy line and a mischievous grin.
Shying away from old time love songs, the lyrics focus instead on old time livin'. From the rollicking CCR swamp sounds of Take it Out Back to Brodsky's tribute to singer Jack Williams on 40 Years - there's a consistent sense of loss about yesteryear - the good old days. In one way or another, the songs seem to pay tribute to times gone by, when folks gave directions to their homes using unusual landmarks, when politicians were straight and honest, and when baseball was about character not million dollar contracts.
What truly makes for a refreshing listen is the way Brodsky pokes a little fun at it all - at the system, at society and even at himself. We get a glimpse behind the political scenes on He Came To Our Town about the public image creation around a presidential visit, and Boys in the Back Room about small town municipal corruption. As on previous works, Brodsky's obvious respect for the good old days of baseball gets treatment, this time in the songs Gone to Heaven and "Bonehead Murkle". And he recounts life growing up on Restless Kid. Sometimes it's pretty sentimental but a sarcastic poke or critical jab is never far away. On the track Schmoozing, for example, Brodsky laments the burden of album promotion in today's music biz. "Schmoozing, Schmoozing. Check out the technique I'm using. Schmoozing, schmoozing. Smiling, shaking hands and boozing".
The tracks have a consistent acoustic instrumentation, predominantly guitar accompanied sparingly with slide, bass, banjo, mandolin and the occasional Hammond organ. It may sound familiar, but it's also comfortable and reassuring like a fresh baked apple pie. Brodsky's old time characters and old time values will have you wishing you were raised in small town America circa 1940, even if, like me, you weren't.
The only hard part about reviewing a Chuck Brodsky release is getting through the review without mentioning a certain folk singer whose name sounds like Don Pine. It's more than just a similar vocal style that draws comparisons, although both have that rough edged "every man" sound. The way subject matters are tackled with humor and wit also contributes to the comparisons, as does the largely acoustic sound. Brodsky might be used to the comparisons by now, but there's no doubt, he deserves to be recognized on his own terms.
When all the great folk singers of the sixties have come and gone, hopefully Brodsky will still be crafting his songs, sharing his views like a trustworthy old friend.
But we probably won't find him sitting out front. Better check 'round back.